My Friend Horace, the Baboon

Being in the first Peace Corps program in Swaziland, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Life in a small town (called Siteki) ended up being a swell experience, one that has stayed with me for life. But, at the beginning, however, it was a big and somewhat lonely adjustment. I would walk about a mile to my school and then normally into town in the late afternoon to buy food and other things from the two general stores. In walking to town, I always passed the truck yard of Trevor Dyson who ran a ten-truck transport service all over the country. In a totally fenced part of the yard lived Horace, a male orphaned baboon. One day, I stopped near the fence and Horace came to me snapping his teeth (in baboon language – this is a friendly hello).

“You can go in if you like,” came a voice behind me. “He is very friendly.” It was Trevor Dyson, an interesting man who after World War II drove from Cairo to South Africa (Swaziland borders S. Africa to the east). I later got to know Trevor well, stopping by his office for tea a few days a week. But back to Horace. I did take up his offer and opened the chain link gate and went in and sat on a flat rock. This being my first direct encounter with a wild animal (and not a small one!), I was nervous.

Horace came over, clicked his teeth again, sat next to me and began picking through the hair on my arm with incredible dexterity. He was grooming me. But the next move was altogether more interesting. Part of the grooming was to make sure there was no hair where it should not be. Starting with my elbows, he actually shaved me, so to speak, by chopping the hair with his front teeth until each elbow was clean. Next he did the same with my ear lobes!

Let me tell you, it is a unique experience hearing the “click, click, click” of his incisors which never came close to anything like a bite. He was the perfect living barber. My visits with Horace became a regular thing. He would see me coming way down the road, start pacing back and forth in anticipation, clicking his teeth as I entered. Down we would sit and the grooming would begin. He really became a friend. I was amazed how human he seemed. And looking back, I realized the nature of our relationship.

For different reasons, we were both lonely. I was taking the place of another baboon, and he a human. There was, of course, a sadness to his life. Like all wild animals, Horace should have been in the wild. Saying goodbye to him when I has finished my service, I choked up and, from the look on his face, he knew very well that something was up. From that day forward, my interest in animals, and my respect for them as sentient, social creatures, has only deepened. -- FO

Comments: 3

6 years ago

Oh my heavens, I don't believe it.......I knew Horace too! I spent the first 11 years of my life in Stegi (now Siteki) Swaziland. My mother, Elma Marx, was the local school maam. She taught Grade 1, Grade 2, Std 1 and Std 2. Four classes in the same class-room! My step-father was Len Marx, a rep for Sell & BP. He dabbled in various other ventures, leased a farm on the road to Mozambique, was a part-time auctioneer and part-owner of the garage over the road from Trevor Dyson's yard, were Horace lived in a large box on top of a pole. He loved Hubbly Bubbly orange. He was also known as Houdini as they'd tie him up and then bury him up to his neck in the sand-pit. Horace would lie dead-still looking a Dyson who would be looking at his watch. As the second-hand got to the '12' he'd shout GO! And Houdini would suddenly become a blur of movement and in less than a minute he'd be free and awaiting his reward! One day he escaped and made a bee-line for the grocery shop and made full use of the banquet suddenly available to him, taking a bite of each cabbage, lettuce, carrot, etc. Then he stuffed his cheeks with peaches and grapes before turning himself in. I don't recall what happened to him in the end. My name is Anton and I was the only red-headed kid in Stegi. From the photo you look very familiar but Fred O'Regan doesn't ring a bell. To get a perspective of ages, I was born in 1951. Thanks so much for taking me back to that wonderful time and era Fred.

6 years ago

[...] FOR DOGS! European Parliament adopts declaration on dog population management — AnimalWire.orgMy Friend Horace, the Baboon — var [...]

6 years ago

Such a fascinating and unique interaction -- you're lucky to have had such a beautiful encounter with a wild animal, and Horace is lucky he found someone like you to confide in!

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